Sunday, November 30, 2014

"What do you do with a broken world?"

Day #338:  Daily Bible Reading - December 1st

Scripture Reading:  Deuteronomy 23 - 25 ...

Israel, the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob ... a people called to be "holy" to the LORD their God, a people set apart to be different.  They had been slaves in Egypt, and God had delivered them with a mighty hand.  For forty years they had wandered in the wilderness because of their refusal to trust God and enter the land He had promised their forefathers.  Now they were about to enter the land and Moses was preparing them by giving them instructions from God on how to live with each other.  Have you ever thought about why all these rules were necessary?

We live in a broken world.  People don't know what is good for them, how to get along with each other or why they should worship and serve the one true God, their Creator.  These were people just like you and me, and God was presenting to the world for all time a picture of mankind's brokenness and our need for redemption.  The details given in these chapters include extremely personal aspects of life.  When God created us everything was good, everything worked together, everything glorified our Creator.  But then came sin and all of creation was deeply affected.  What you read in these chapters is God speaking to a particular people about every part of their lives because their sin was destroying them.

They were about to go into "the Promised Land," but it would not be without many trials and struggles.  It would be clear from the beginning that only by the grace of God would they defeat their enemies ... those outside and those inside.  Ultimately, THEY would fail, but God would be faithful in keeping His promise to send a Savior.  Meanwhile, they needed rules.  There were rules for "cleanness" and "uncleanness."  Those who were "unclean" were not allowed in the assembly of God's people.  He gave them sacrifices and offerings to bring to the tabernacle to receive His cleansing, His forgiveness.  Yet these were only a symbol, pointing to the perfect cleansing that would happen only through the perfect sacrifice ... Jesus.

Here in Deuteronomy is a picture of human depravity and the amazing grace of God.  Some have said that there is little or no grace in the Old Testament, but God reveals His patience and faithfulness through one people, one nation ... Israel.  Even though He eventually brings His promised judgment on them, He spares those who believe in Him and who trust in His love and mercy.  When God tells them not to charge interest to a brother (23:19) and to keep their vows to the LORD their God (23:21-23), along with other instructions to help them live as a people "holy" to God, set apart for Him, this is grace.  Like the nations around them Israel continually revealed that they, too, deserved God's judgment.  The fact that God spared them as long as He did, and that He kept His promise to bring the Savior from the line of Judah is a testimony to His grace and mercy.

In Chapters 24-25, God gives a number of examples of how they are to treat other people.  In Leviticus 19:18, the people were told to love their neighbor as they loved themselves.  This command is expanded in the New Testament and becomes a fundamental part of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus.  Here in Deuteronomy God was telling them to be merciful by reminding them that they had been slaves in Egypt, in essence saying, "How did it feel to be slaves?"  God told them not to take advantage of other people, especially those who were poor and needy (24:14).  He told them not to deprive "the alien or the fatherless of justice ..." (24:17), and then He tells them why:  "Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and the LORD your God redeemed you from there.  That is why I command you to do this" (24:18).

God then gives instructions about leaving behind some of the harvest for the alien, the fatherless and the widow, and again explains why:  "Remember that you were slaves in Egypt.  That is why I command you to do this" (24:22).  One of the most common sins of people who receive grace and mercy seems to be pride.  When God delivers people from their own problems and trials, it is meant to show them His love and grace and to move them, to inspire them to pass it on.  In His parable of the unmerciful servant in Matthew 18, Jesus points out that the one who has received mercy but who then refuses to show mercy to his brother will face God's just judgment and wrath.  There will be no escape.  Many within Israel discovered that truth the hard way.  God had watched over them and given them all they needed, yet they rebelled against Him and even worshiped idols.

We are no different today.  The prophet Micah writes, "He has shown you, O man, what is good, and what does the LORD require of you, but to act justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God" (Micah 6:8).  That's what God is teaching Israel as they are about to enter the promised land.  They had done nothing to earn God's favor, any more than you or I have, but God had set His love on them as a people and they were now called to display His glory to the nations around them.  Oh, but they were as God described them in several places, "a stubborn and stiff-necked people."  So are all the nations of the world today.  We live in a broken world so deeply affected by sin and yet so blind to our need for a Savior, a Redeemer ... only the grace of God can save us!

As Moses goes on in Chapter 25 God reveals more principles of living life in a broken world and the importance of mercy and honesty and integrity.  Those nations who had been opposed to Israel and who had treated them harshly would face His judgment.  They would pay for their lack of mercy, for "they had no fear of God" (25:18).  They would be "forgotten" by God.  It is a picture of the final judgment, described in Revelation 20:11-14.  Most people today know nothing about what God says is coming on the world.  A "day of judgment" is the last thing people are thinking about, but it will come, as God says it will, and only those who have received His grace and mercy in Christ Jesus will be spared.

This world cannot be fixed ... even by God Himself!  That may sound strange, but it is true.  Even after the flood mankind turned away from God again and again and again.  That's why God chose one man, Abraham, and made a covenant of grace with him.  Even before creation God knew what Adam and Eve would do and what would follow.  We are told in Ephesians 1:4 that we who believe were "chosen in Christ before the foundation of the earth" was laid.  It was God's desire to reveal the horrible nature of evil so that those who experienced His grace would live their lives in thanksgiving and gratitude for His love and mercy.  Does that describe you today?  Do you understand your need for a Savior and have you found in Jesus all you need?  Do you see the evidence of the work of God's Spirit within you, guiding you, pulling you away from the things of the world, moving you to show mercy to others and to love your Father in heaven?

God WILL "fix" this broken world, but only through the fire of judgment.  Evil will be overcome once and for all and God will establish His kingdom in a new world, "the home of righteousness" (II Peter 3:13). Until then there will be rules, and people will break them.  What do you do with a broken world?  But God will keep His promises and in Jesus Christ there is a sure and certain hope for all who believe.  This world and everything in it is temporary, but those who do the will of God, who put their trust in Jesus, will be saved and will enter into the assembly of the saints, those made holy in Christ, to worship and serve our God and King forever and ever!

"LORD God Almighty, in Your amazing grace You have pointed out our sin and called us to repentance and faith in Jesus.  In Your abundant mercy we find hope and in Your love we find joy unspeakable!  Help me, Father, to understand the blessing of hearing Your commands and in humility to treat those around me with the same love and grace that You have shown to me.  In Jesus' name, Amen" 

Saturday, November 29, 2014

"THIS is how you KNOW that you HAVE eternal life!"

Day #337:  Daily Bible Reading Plan - November 30th

Scripture Reading:  I John 4 - 5 ...

There's "thinking" that you'll go to heaven some day, and there's KNOWING that you HAVE eternal life ... NOW ... TODAY!!  Someone who was a very dear person to me was very near to her death when she said to me, "We're all trying to get to the same place."   I felt compelled to share with her that while our efforts will never be enough to assure us of eternal life in God's presence, there IS a way to KNOW that you have eternal life and that you will spend eternity in the presence of God in a perfect new world, where there is no more sin, suffering, pain or death.  That's what John is talking about in his letter to the churches.  It was still the first century following the death and resurrection of Jesus and persecution had led to the death of many Christians.  There was nothing of greater importance than KNOWING that you had eternal life ... but how?

John says, "Test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world" (4:1).  This was only a few decades following Jesus' ascension into heaven, but already false teachers were infiltrating the church.  It was vitally important that believers had a way to discern who was telling the truth and who was not.  John makes it abundantly clear:  "Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God" (4:2), and "everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God" (5:1).  John goes to great lengths in his letter to explain that those who know Jesus Christ will love Him AND will love one another!!  Being a Christian is about having a relationship with God through faith in Jesus and with other believers as His Spirit works within us.

Being "religious" does not bring assurance of eternal life.  It is ALL about JESUS!!  God showed HIS love by sending "His one and only Son into the world that we might live through Him.  THIS is love:  not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins" (4:9-10).  Our sin stands between us and God.  Not everyone is a child of God ... only those who believe in Jesus, who believe He is the Christ, who are "possessed" by His Spirit and who listen to God.  It truly is not enough to believe Jesus lived a long time ago and set an example for us to follow.  Jesus gave Himself as the "atoning sacrifice" for our sins.  Believing in Jesus means that you believe He suffered in your place on the cross, bearing God's judgment for your sins.

Many seem to believe that being a Christian simply means following Jesus' example and doing some of the things Jesus did, but without the cross ... without confessing your sin and trusting in Jesus' blood for forgiveness ... you cannot and will not be saved!  Isaiah writes, "He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon HIM, and by His wounds we are healed" (Isaiah 53:5).  So John writes, "We have seen and testify that the Father has sent His Son to be the the Savior of the world.  If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in Him and He in God" (4:14-15).  KNOWING Jesus is the mark of the believer ... not just knowing about Him, but knowing Him, believing in Him, trusting Him.

This is not mere HEAD knowledge, but a love born of being loved first.  So many know nothing of such a love as God's love in Jesus.  Our love is a response to His.  "We love because He FIRST loved us!" (4:19).  "God IS love.  Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him.  In this way, love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment, because in this world we are like Him" (4:16-17).  God's love is a selfless love and the love of believers is the same.  We don't serve God because we have to, but because we want to.  We are motivated to respond to God's love in Jesus, as a bride responds to her bridegroom.  This love originates in God and His Spirit is the One who initiates our response to God's love, moving us to love Him AND other believers.

There is a special bond among believers that those who are of the world cannot possibly understand.  It is a love without demands, focused on giving rather than receiving.  As those who are united to Christ by faith, we have nothing to gain and nothing to lose.  Our life is wrapped up in Jesus and by faith we overcome the world (5:4).  What can the world do to us?  God testified to the truth at Jesus' baptism and in His sacrifice on the cross, the perfect Passover Lamb, whose blood cleanses us from sin.  GOD Himself is the only One who can determine the way of salvation, the narrow road that leads to life, the one and only way to find forgiveness for sin and life forever with Him.  God has determined that only those who come to Him through this one way can KNOW that they HAVE eternal life!

Do you know the way?  God makes it so clear that those who are in Christ can be SURE!  He says, "Anyone who believes in the Son of God has this testimony in his heart ... and this is the testimony:  God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son.  He who has the Son has life; He who does not have the Son of God does not have life" (5:10-12).  Now follows the verse that so many do not seem to know exists.  Millions remain in bondage to doubt and fear ... like my dear aunt who lay on her death bed not being sure of eternal life because her church, her "religion," would not allow her to dare have such assurance.  Yet, here it is ... here is God's own testimony:  "God has GIVEN us eternal life, and this life is in His Son."

Now John's urgent purpose for writing his letter to the churches:  "I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may KNOW that you have eternal life!" (5:13).  What do you want from God more than anything else?  Could there be a request any greater than this:  to live with the LORD God Almighty in His eternal kingdom forever!!?  "This is the confidence we have in approaching God:  that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us.  And if we KNOW that He hears us - whatever we ask - we KNOW that we have what we asked of Him" (5:14-15).  Have you asked God to save you?  Have you confessed your sin and asked for His forgiveness?  Have you asked for eternal life?  Have you acknowledged that Jesus is the eternal Son of God come in the flesh and that He paid your debt on the cross?  Then you can KNOW that you HAVE eternal life!!

"We are in Him who is true - even in His Son Jesus Christ.  He IS the true God and eternal life" (5:20).    "WE" who believe, who trust, who have faith in, who know JESUS, the Son of God, the Christ, our Savior and our Lord... we HAVE eternal life and our faith "is the victory that has overcome the world!" (5:4).  Praise God for His marvelous gift of life in Jesus!

"Heavenly Father, You have GIVEN me life ... at the expense of the suffering and death of Your own Son, Jesus.  By the work of Your Spirit, Father, I am Your child.  Your love overwhelms me as I respond to Your love ... seeking to love You as You have loved me.  Give me grace to so love You and my brothers and sisters in Christ so that my life displays YOUR love to the world and draws others to my Savior.  In Jesus' name, Amen"

Friday, November 28, 2014

"Testifying to the Gospel of God's grace in Christ Jesus … "

Day #336:  Daily Bible Reading Plan - November 29th

Scripture Reading:  Acts 19 - 20 …

We who believe in Jesus Christ are called to testify, to proclaim the message that God has entrusted to us in the Gospel.  People talk about a lot of things and a lot of what they say has to do with what they believe to be true.  Listen carefully and you will hear people around you stating their opinions as though they were fact, but as the old saying goes, "Opinions are a dime a dozen."  In other words, opinions aren't worth much.  Another saying puts it this way, "Everyone's entitled to their opinion."  But is that really true?  Perhaps it is in some things, but not when it comes to God's Word and the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

From its beginning, the truth God reveals in His Word claims to exclude all opinions that are contrary to it.  The Bible begins, "In the beginning GOD created …"  That is either true or false.  There is no other opinion that can contradict what God says is true without coming into direct opposition to God's Word.  So the Gospel of Jesus Christ excludes all philosophies, ideas and theories of mankind as to who Jesus is, why He came, what He did and what it means for us and for all of mankind.  If any other idea or theory or philosophy of man is true, then the Gospel is false.  That's why the move towards "tolerance" of any and all religions reveals man's foolishness.  BOTH cannot be true.  The Gospel sits on one side and every other thought of man sits on the other side.  One is true, the other is false.

When it comes to the truth about Jesus and the Gospel of God's grace, your opinion or mine doesn't matter!  As Paul and others went out into the world preaching about Jesus Christ, they didn't offer the Gospel as one of many possibilities.  They didn't ask people to give them a chance to share with them or to consider that Jesus might be the promised Messiah.  As they preached they declared the truth that Jesus IS the Christ, the Messiah, and that only by believing in Him could anyone be saved from God's judgment.  They testified to the truth that Jesus' blood, shed on the cross, was the perfect and only sacrifice for sin and that it was only by God's grace, His undeserved favor, that anyone could be saved through faith in Him.

When Paul came to Ephesus he found some people who said they were disciples of Jesus, but they didn't know anything about Jesus' death and resurrection.  They hadn't heard the Gospel of grace.  When Paul asked them if they had heard about the Holy Spirit, they said, "No."  They had been baptized, but it was "John's baptism," a baptism of repentance.  John the Baptist was the forerunner that Malachi had talked about (Malachi 4:5-6), who prepared the people to receive the Gospel by calling them to repentance.  His baptism was a "baptism of repentance," (19:4), calling people to confess their sin and to turn from it.

But now Jesus had died on the cross to pay the penalty for sin and He had risen from the dead to declare victory over death and the grave for all who believed.  Those who believed in HIM were now called to be baptized into a relationship with Him that pointed to God's grace in the Gospel, that to all who believed righteousness was credited to them by faith.  The Gospel always points not to what WE do, but to what GOD has done in Christ and what He is doing through His Spirit.  Anything that points to something other than grace is not the Gospel!

As he always did, Paul entered the synagogue and offered the Gospel first to the Jews.  He talked to them "about the kingdom of God" (19:8).  But when they stubbornly rejected his words, he went to the town hall and spoke continually about Jesus and who He was and what He did … for two years!!  All the Jews and Gentiles who lived in the whole province of Asia came and listened to him and many believed as God did many miracles to confirm His Word.  There is always opposition to the Gospel because it demands a response.  "Maybe" isn't a response!  It's either "Yes" or "No."  If Jesus is who He says He is and He did what He said He did, and if He died and rose again and ascended into heaven and sent His Holy Spirit to open the eyes of those who are spiritually blind, then you either believe and are saved or you don't believe and you're not saved!

Christians are persecuted today because we stand firm in our belief that Jesus is God and that He alone is the Way, the Truth and the Life.  Isn't it interesting that those who have other beliefs are not persecuted for what they believe?  Have you ever thought about that?  Christians in this country have never persecuted those who worship other gods, or those who worship nothing at all.  In countries where there are more Christians than Muslims, the Muslims are not being persecuted.  Even in Ephesus, a riot broke out because those who worshiped the goddess, Artemis, felt threatened … but not so much because of their "faith" in her, but because if people believed in Jesus they wouldn't buy statues of Artemis any more!!

So to defend their business selling idols, they declared their fear that "the temple of the great goddess Artemis will be discredited, and the goddess herself, who is worshiped throughout the province of 
Asia and the world, will be robbed of her divine majesty" (19:27).  Well, someone is being robbed of their rightful place of honor and worship … but it's NOT Artemis!!  Imagine, for two hours they all shouted in unison, "Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!" (19:34).  Oh, how patient God is!  They were willing to believe that an image of Artemis had fallen from the sky and they declared, "these facts are undeniable," (19:36), but they refused to believe the eyewitness accounts of those who had seen Jesus, who had heard Him speak and who were now testifying of God's grace to all who believed.

How foolish and hardened are the hearts of those who have not received the Spirit of God.  As Paul continued on his journey he taught wherever he went.  His message didn't change.  He continued to testify to God's grace in Jesus and wherever he went some believed and others did not.  Some today try to change the message to get more people to believe it.  They may attract a crowd to themselves, but the Gospel draws people to JESUS for forgiveness and eternal life.  Only the power of the Spirit of God can bring new birth and move the heart of man to say, "Yes!" to faith in Jesus Christ.  That's what grace does:  "It is by grace you have been saved, through faith (and that not from yourselves), it is the gift of God, not of works so that no man can boast" (Ephesians 2:8-9).

As they heard that message in Ephesus and throughout Asia, so we need to hear that message today and proclaim it to all people.  Paul wanted to return to Jerusalem to share what God was doing throughout the region, even though he knew that he would continue to face severe opposition from some of the Jews.  He called the Elders from Ephesus and encouraged them, saying, "I have declared to both Jews and Greeks that they must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus" (20:22).  Paul understood the mission God had given to him:  "I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me - the task of testifying to the Gospel of God's grace" (20:24).  That is OUR task, our mission, today!!

Paul explained that he would not see them again and said, "Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers.  Be shepherds of the Church of God, which He bought with His own blood" (20:28).  He warned them that false teachers would come, even from among them, and that they would "distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them.  So be on your guard!!" (20:29-31).  Oh, how we need that warning today, for there are many false teachers within the church who are not testifying to the Gospel of God's grace in Christ Jesus.  Instead, they offer their opinions, which are, as we said at the beginning, worth very little.

It was certainly not his own opinions that Paul preached.  As he leaves the Ephesian Elders he says, "Now I commit you to God and to the word of His grace, which can build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified" (20:32).  God's Word brings life to those who are dead.  And once you have received His grace through faith in Jesus, you understand that "it is more blessed to give than to receive" (20:35).  The greatest gift you can offer is the Gospel of God's grace in Christ Jesus!  Be bold in testifying to this Gospel and see what God will do in you and through you!

"Heavenly Father, having heard the Gospel of Your grace in Christ Jesus, I pray for a holy boldness to proclaim this life-giving message to all I meet.  Give me wisdom to seek You always and to be on guard against those who would arise from within the church and distort Your truth, leading some away to make disciples for themselves.  Keep me faithful to You, O God, as I testify to the Gospel of Your grace in Christ Jesus, my Savior and my Lord.  In Jesus' name, Amen"

Thursday, November 27, 2014

"When you question God, be prepared for an answer!"

Day #335:  Daily Bible Reading Plan - November 28th

Scripture Reading:  Malachi 1 - 4 ...

God hears you when you ... THINK!  David writes in Psalm 139: "O LORD, You have searched me and You know me.  You know when I sit and when I rise; You perceive my thoughts from afar ... " (Psalm 139:1-2).  In the days of Malachi, the people of Judah, who had returned from captivity in Babylon and rebuilt the temple, were once again revealing their true hearts.  Their worship of God was half-hearted at best, and disgraceful at worst.  These were the people of God, but when confronted with their sin they questioned God, even argued with Him!  Malachi's words are scattered with episodes of God confronting them, and then saying, "But you ask ... "  Instead of humbly accepting the Lord's rebuke, they tried to defend themselves, to make excuses for their sinful behavior.  God wanted confession and repentance and obedience!!

Malachi begins by reminding them of God's sovereign and gracious love:  "'I have loved you,' says the Lord!" (Malachi 1:2).  And here's their first question:  "But you ask, 'How have You loved us?'" (1:2).  Can you imagine the people of Judah asking that question?  Obviously, they were either ignorant of their history or they were like so many today who take all of God's blessings for granted and then demand more, without giving thanks for what they have!  Those who are part of the church today sometimes ask the same thing.  When going through trials or problems of any kind they question God and His love for them.  Do you do that?  If you wonder if God loves you, all you need to do is look at the cross!!  God gave His only Son, that whoever believes should not perish, but have everlasting life!!!!!!

Reminding them of His sovereign choice of Jacob (whose name was changed to "Israel") over his brother, Esau, God reveals Himself once again as the God who made His covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  As God does today, He chose a people and set His love on them for no other reason than His sovereign choice.  How thankful must we be if God has chosen us and given us new life by His Spirit through faith in Jesus?!  God's love demands a response, but the people were bringing their sick and diseased animals as sacrifices and thinking God didn't know it.  This is the LIVING God!  God asks, "Where is the respect due me?"...  And they asked, "How have we shown contempt for Your Name?" (1:6).  When you offer God your leftovers He notices and says, "I am not pleased with you" (1:10).  Those who truly know God desire to please Him and God sees our hearts and minds.  We are not saved by what we do, but what we do IS evidence of our relationship with God - or the lack of one!

God declares, "My name will be great among the nations!" (1:11).  These people were coming to worship and saying (thinking), "What a burden!" (1:13).  How many in the church today act as though it is a great burden to worship God?  They'll come early and sit for hours through a sporting event or a concert, but when it comes to worship or studying God's Word or serving others, "there just isn't time!"  And part of the problem ... a large part of the problem, is those who have been called to lead them!  God uses Malachi to speak to the priests and tells them a curse is coming "because you have not set your heart to honor me" (2:2).  God had entered into covenant with them and He says, "this called for reverence ..." (2:5).  "The lips of a priest ought to preserve knowledge ... because he is the messenger of the LORD Almighty.  But you have turned from the way and by your teaching have caused many to stumble ..." (2:7-8).

How tragic it is when those who are in positions to lead people to God speak their own words and lead people AWAY from God!  Judah had "broken faith" with God.  They had abandoned the covenant God had made with them by worshiping idols and intermarrying with the nations around them.  They were responsible to raise the next generation of "godly offspring" (2:15).  But instead, they "wearied the LORD with their words" (2:17).  They talked about God and they went through the motions of worship, but God saw their hearts!  And God "heard" their thoughts.  From their perspective, "all who do evil are good in the eyes of the LORD, and He is pleased with them" (2:17).  How much like today, as people condone sinful behavior and call it "love" and "tolerance."  Isaiah wrote, "Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness" (Isaiah 5:20).

You and I cannot just pretend to have a relationship with God.  He KNOWS your heart!  Malachi now shifts to the future as he predicts that "the Lord you are seeking will come to His temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come" (3:1).  From the Garden of Eden forward God has always pointed His people to the future, when He would overcome sin and its consequences.  God made it clear that it would not be a "good" day for all people.  "Who can endure the day of His coming?  Who can stand when He appears?" (3:2).  But there was no fear of God, no reverence, no awe in Judah.  And so many make the same mistake today.  When all you hear about God or know about God is a generic "love" for all people, the question arises, as it did in the days of Malachi, "Where is the God of justice?" (2:17).

So God chooses a symptom of their disobedience and rejection of Him in their tithes and offerings.  Yet here, too, they refused to listen and asked another question.  God said, "Return to me, and I will return to you" (3:7).  But they asked, "How are we to return?"  God said, " Will a man rob God? Yet you rob me?"  And they asked, "How do we rob you?"  And God answered, "In tithes and offerings" (3:7-8).  God said, "You have said harsh things against Me."    But they said, "It is futile to serve God" (3:14).  All the things the Jews were saying and doing, people do today ... and God sees and knows!!

BUT, there was a remnant!!!  God always has a remnant, a small number of people, known to God, who know God and who put their faith in Him and live to obey Him.  "Then those who feared the Lord talked with each other, and the LORD listened and heard.  A scroll of remembrance was written in His presence concerning those who feared the LORD and honored His Name" (3:16).  God's response?  "They will be mine in the day when I make up my treasured possession.  I will spare them, just as in compassion a man spares his son who serves him.  And you will again see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between those who serve God and those who do not" (3:17-18).

There is a day coming when God's justice will roll like a river.  "Surely the day is coming; it will burn like a furnace.  All the arrogant and every evildoer will be stubble, and that day that is coming will set them on fire ... BUT for you who revere my Name, the Sun of Righteousness will rise with healing in its wings!" (4:1-2).  The remnant will be saved ... those who honor the Lord, their God and who humble themselves and come to Him through faith in Jesus.  "Return to Me, and I will return to YOU" (3:7).  We cannot and will not turn to God except by the power of His Spirit.  It is only those who are born again and who then acknowledge the one true God who will escape His judgment.

Malachi predicts the coming of John the Baptist in the closing verses of the Old Testament Scriptures:  "See, I will send you the prophet Elijah before that great and dreadful day of the LORD comes.  He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers; or else I will come and strike the land with a curse" (4:5-6).  As Moses presented the people of Israel with a choice in Deuteronomy 28-30; and as Joshua did the same in Joshua 23-24, so God offers the choice between life and death to all people.  Yet knowing the hearts of men and "hearing" their thoughts, God knows only those whom He chooses to be part of His remnant will respond.  The rest will perish in unbelief and rebellion ... continuing to question God and ignoring His answers!!

Are you listening?  Or are you still talking ... still questioning God?  All the answers to our questions are in God's Word and when He answers we do well to listen, to repent, to return to Him and to obey, for He is the God of justice!  Praise God that He sent His Son, Jesus, to be the sacrifice for our sin and that through faith in Him you and I can know that WE are part of the remnant who will escape His coming judgment and experience His healing!

"Lord God Almighty, You are the covenant God, who has established Your covenant of love with those whom You have chosen to be Yours.  In humility I confess my sin before You and lift up Your Name, for You alone are holy!  Show me, O God, where my life is out of line with Your will and where my disobedience dishonors Your Name.  I turn to You, O Lord, for healing and righteousness, trusting in the blood of Jesus for my redemption.  Point me to the future with the sure and certain hope that I am part of Your remnant and destined to live in Your presence forever.  I love You, O Lord my God, in Jesus' Name, Amen"

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

"Remember your Creator …"

Day #334:  Daily Bible Reading Plan - November 27th

Scripture Reading:  Ecclesiastes 11 - 12 … 

Perhaps the best advice anyone could give or receive is found in this simple phrase:  "Remember your Creator!"  People are dying, physically, emotionally and spiritually because they don't remember, don't think about, don't consider this truth, that they were created BY God and FOR God, and that living for any other reason is DEATH.  Of all His creation, it was only Adam and Eve, mankind, who were created in God's image.  As spiritual beings we were created to know God, our Creator, and deep within every human being there remains this awareness that there is something more, someONE more … a "Higher Being," as God is sometimes called.  It is in forgetting our Creator that millions live the life that Solomon rightly calls "meaningless; a chasing after the wind."

In Chapter 11, Solomon describes the unpredictable nature of life.  You "cast your bread upon the waters" (11:1) and see what you get back.  You give to others, but you hold back because "you do not know what disaster may come upon the land" (11:2).  Certain things can be known:  dark clouds lead to rain and when a tree falls it lies where it fell.  But other things cause indecision:  life is like watching the weather and trying to decide what to do.  "As you do not know the path of the wind, or how the body is formed in a mother's womb, so you cannot understand the work of God, the Maker of all things" (11:5).  We have wisdom to accomplish many things, yet we seem to forget that in a moment God can change it all.  Our lives are in His hands, as are the results of all our labor.  "You do not know which will succeed, whether this or that, or whether both will do equally well" (11:6).

One thing is certain:  nothing on earth is certain … except that which God reveals to those who are given eyes to see and ears to hear.  So Solomon goes on to tell the young that they should enjoy the years when they are young, to follow the ways of their hearts and to do what they want to do, "BUT know that for all these things God will bring you to judgment" (11:9).  Living life to do whatever you want means that you have forgotten your Creator and have given in to the temptation to make yourself "God!"  Jesus said that He came to reveal the Father to those whom the Father had given Him, and the knowledge Jesus gives through His Word and Spirit begins here.

The Apostle Paul says in Romans 1:18-20 that "the wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them.  For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities - His eternal power and divine nature - have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse."  Modern science has "discovered" so many things in the past century, all of which point to our Creator.  And yet, the more we discover the more we use our supposed "wisdom" to exclude God!

David wrote in Psalm 19:1-4:  "The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of His hands.  Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge.  There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard.  Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the earth."  Everything points to our CREATOR, yet, because of the spiritual darkness and blindness caused by our rebellion against God, the result of spiritual death caused by the sin that has been passed from Adam on, Paul's description of mankind explains the tragedy of human life on planet earth from Adam to today:

"For although they knew God, they neither glorified Him as God nor gave thanks to Him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.  Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles" (Romans 1:21-23).  The rest of that chapter explains that God gave man over to His sinful and depraved mind and heart and the result is what you see all around you today.  Already, God's wrath is poured out in thousands of ways upon those who believe that if there is a "god," he/she/it should treat them better.  How foolish we have become.

Back to Ecclesiastes, Solomon goes on to call people to "Remember your Creator in the days of your youth, before the days of trouble come" (12:1).  Throughout the Bible God makes it clear that no one escapes the consequences of sin and mankind's rebellion that are all around us.  Shortly before His crucifixion, Jesus told His disciples, "I have told you these things so that in Me you may have peace.  In THIS world you will have trouble.  But take heart!  I have overcome the world" (John 16:33).  Solomon encourages his readers to remember their Creator before the trials of life and the burdens of older age come upon them … when they can no longer see, when their teeth no longer work, when they can no longer walk … before "man goes to his eternal home and mourners go about the streets" (12:5) … before you DIE!!  "Remember Him - before … the dust returns to the ground it came from, and the spirit returns to God who gave it" (12:6-7).

All this, from man's perspective, is "Meaningless! Meaningless!  Everything is meaningless!" (12:8).  Yet, there is something that can give meaning to all that Solomon has examined and to all the experiences of mankind from the beginning to end.  "The words of the wise are like goads, their collected sayings like firmly embedded nails - given by one Shepherd" (12:11).  "Goads" were sharp prods that were used to get dumb animals to move in a certain direction.  God's words are intended to move foolish people to turn toward the Good Shepherd, the One who alone can lead them to safe pasture and protect them from their enemies.  Those who reject and ignore God's Word do so to their own destruction, for LIFE is found in the truth He has revealed.

As he considers all these things, God leads Solomon to his conclusion:  "Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter:  Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.  For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil" (12:13-14).  Wisdom, according to Solomon, is knowing God, loving Him and living in obedience to His Word.  Anything else is foolishness, meaningless, a chasing after the wind.  Just look how so many people are living today.  They are "without hope and without God in the world" (Ephesians 2:12).  And yet when we who know the one true God point them to Jesus Christ for forgiveness and life, they reject the truth and perish, as they were destined to do.  They are without excuse.

The writer of Hebrews, more than a thousand years later, comes to the same conclusion:  "For the Word of God is living and active.  Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.  Nothing in all creation is hidden from God's sight.  Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of Him to whom we must give account" (Hebrews 4:12-13).  It does no good to try to hide, to pretend that these things are not true.  It is much better to remember your Creator, to know Him as He has revealed Himself through His Son Jesus Christ as the just and holy God who in love sent His own Son to pay the penalty for sin for all who believe in Him.

Apart from the work of God's Spirit, you and I would be blind along with the rest of mankind.  It is by GRACE that we are saved, "undeserved favor."  God comes to those who are spiritually dead and unable to "remember" Him and gives us new life … a new mind, a new heart, a new will.  And the first decision that new mind, heart and will makes is to place its hope in the perfect Son of God and His sacrifice on the cross.  Praise God that He does not leave all of us in our sinful state of spiritual death.  Thank Him for His gift of salvation; for the forgiveness of your sins and the promise of eternal life, the possession of all who believe in Jesus.

We know … and YOU can know that "there is now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus!" (Romans 8:1).  As John writes, "He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life.  I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life" (I John 5:12-13).  May the Spirit of the living God so work in you that you discover true wisdom - the wisdom of God that leads you to acknowledge Him as your Creator, your Savior and your Lord!

"Lord God Almighty, I acknowledge You alone as the one true God, the Creator of all things … MY Creator!  As I live in this world I see now so clearly the sinful rebellion of the entire human race and I am amazed at Your grace to me, for apart from Your grace I, too, would be blind.  I confess even now that I still see the pull of the old nature of sin within me and I cling to Your promise of forgiveness and life through Jesus Christ, my Savior and my Lord.  Help me now, Father, to obey Your commands from a willing heart, out of love for You and my neighbor, that I may live in this world to glorify You until I enter Your eternal kingdom with joy and thanksgiving, in Jesus' name, Amen"

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

"The Lord will fulfill His purpose for me … "

Day #333:  Daily Bible Reading Plan - November 26th

Scripture Reading:  Psalms 137 - 139 …

In the whole scheme of things, what difference will your life make?  Does your life really matter?  James writes, "Now listen, you who say, 'Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.'  Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow.  What is your life?  You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.  Instead, you ought to say, 'If it is the Lord's will, we will live and do this or that.'  As it is, you boast and brag.  All such boasting is evil.  Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn't do it, sins" (James 4:13-17).  Those are sobering words, and yet they offer direction to those who know the Lord, the one Almighty God, the Creator of the heavens and the earth.

You see, God is saying through James that knowing God and doing what He has revealed in His Word to be GOOD in His sight is the ONLY thing that matters.  When he asks, "What is your life?" … and then answers, "You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes," you might think that your life is utterly and totally meaningless.  Here's the truth:  it IS!! … UNLESS you live for the God who gave His Son that you may have life through Him!  Even a Psalm like Psalm 137 points to this truth.  At first glance it's about seeking revenge on the enemy.  Written some time after the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple and the Babylonian captivity, the writer expresses the importance of loving what God loves and hating what God hates.

Jerusalem was GOD's city!  Sometimes referred to as "Zion," this city had been chosen by God for the location of His temple amid the people whom He had chosen.  The Psalmist is praying for the glory of God to be revealed in His judgment on their enemies.  Some mistakenly believe that we should not pray for God to come against our enemies and His, but Paul writes in Romans 12:9 that we must "hate what is evil and cling to what is good."  Then he says that WE should not take revenge, seeking to live at peace with all people, but to leave room for GOD's wrath, "for it is written, 'It is mine to avenge; I will repay,' says the Lord" (Romans 12:18-19).  Evil doesn't get a pass.  The only escape from God's wrath is faith in Jesus Christ and the forgiveness that comes from confessing your sin and trusting in His shed blood.

We who know God's grace praise God with all our hearts for His mercy to us, for we know that we, too, are sinners.  With David, we say, "I will bow down toward Your holy temple and praise Your Name for Your love and Your faithfulness" (138:1-2).  God strengthens those who are His to carry out His purposes on the earth.  "When I called, You answered me; You made me bold and stouthearted" (138:3).  Our desire is that all those around us would praise the LORD, our God.  When this is the desire of your heart, you understand your life and why you're here:  "Though I walk in the midst of trouble, You preserve my life … with Your right hand You save me" (138:7).  Therefore, I know that "the LORD will fulfill His purpose for me … Your love, O LORD, endures forever - do not abandon the works of Your hands" (138:8).

Here's something you and I need to remember every day:  God knows us and our lives are His, to be used for Him!  Jesus said that those who try to save their lives for themselves will lose it, while those who "lose" their lives for Him will find it (Matthew 16:25).  You can only have this perspective on life when you realize that God KNOWS you.  You can't hide, you can't run, you can't pretend, because God knows you!  David goes on in Psalm 139, "O LORD, You have searched me and You know me …" (139:1) … and then he goes on to explain the ways in which God's knowledge of him is exhaustive.  "Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain - " (139:6).  In other words, God knows you and me better than we know ourselves.

That's not surprising when you understand who God IS!  You and I can't avoid His presence.  This is not the "presence of God" that believers experience when His Spirit opens our eyes to His love and goodness and faithfulness, but the fact that God sees everything, knows everything, discerns everything.  " … even the darkness will not be dark to You; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to You" (139:12).  How can God possibly know so much about you and me?  Because He created us!!  It always goes back to this, doesn't it?  Nothing makes sense until or unless you begin with this fact:  God is your Creator and mine and we exist by His permission and for His purposes.

It is only when you fully grasp this truth that you rejoice in God's presence and give thanks for His grace to YOU!  "All the days ordained for me were written in Your book before one of them came to be.  How precious to me are Your thoughts, O God!  How vast is the sum of them!  Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand.  When I awake, I am still with you" (139:16-18).  As he thinks about God's providential care over him, David also understands that there is another group of people who do not know God, who do evil in the darkness and who stand opposed to God.  He expresses the deepest of emotions toward them ... the polar opposite of love:  "Do I not hate those who hate You, O LORD, and abhor those who rise up against You.  I have nothing but hatred for them; I count them my enemies" (Psalm 139:20-22).

How do we reconcile this with the command of Jesus to "Love your enemies"??  (Matthew 5:44).  Notice that Jesus is talking about our personal actions.  We are not to take revenge ourselves or do harm to our enemies.  But David asks GOD to "take care of them."  He is saying that God's enemies are our enemies, and that is true.  In Romans 12:20, Paul quotes Solomon, from Proverbs 25:21-22:  "If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.  In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head."  Loving God requires hating that which is opposed to Him, but our motives must be pure and right in HIS sight.  Therefore, David ends with a prayer:

"Search ME, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.  See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting" (139:23-24).  Pray that God will help you to see that when you come to Him through faith in Jesus, your life DOES matter ... as you fulfill HIS purpose to glorify Him!  "Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good" (Romans 12:21).  Know that it is God's desire to use you to make a difference in this world, and He knows how long you have to do that.  Don't waste a day.  Go for it!!

"O Lord, my God, I find my life in You, for apart from You I have no purpose for being, for living!  You ARE my life and I thank You for giving me not only physical life, but also spiritual life in Christ.  Continue Your work in me as I live in Your presence daily and give me boldness and strength in the face of the evil around me, that I may truly glorify YOU, my God, in all that I do, in Jesus' name, Amen"

Monday, November 24, 2014

"Doing the Lord's work while facing opposition … "

Day #332:  Daily Bible Reading Plan - November 25th

Scripture Reading:  Nehemiah 1 - 4 …

Somehow the idea that serving the Lord our God is easy and fun has caused many to be unprepared to face opposition when it comes.  Believing that following Christ brings instant calm and peace to life, people often become discouraged and frustrated when they believe they are doing God's will and yet face opposition.  However, few things of any importance have been accomplished for God without trials, without the need for dependence on God, without opposition from those who do not know God (though they may claim to know Him, and even to serve Him).  If we only attempt those things which we believe will be easy, we will fail in glorifying God by accomplishing those things that only HIS power and grace can bring to pass through the service of His people.  God wants to display His glory in and through His people.

Such was the case with Nehemiah and with the remnant that had returned to Jerusalem and Judah from their captivity and exile.  Ezra had already returned to Jerusalem and God had sent Haggai and Zechariah to encourage the people to rebuild the temple.  Now, some years later, Nehemiah, who remained in exile as a servant of King Artaxerxes of Persia, heard news about the remnant and was grieved that they were facing "great trouble and disgrace" (1:3).  The walls of Jerusalem were broken down and the gates to the city had been burned.  When Nehemiah heard this he "sat down and wept" (1:4).  But he didn't stop there!  He fasted and prayed!!  We can learn much from Nehemiah about approaching God with humility and sincerity of heart.

How often do we "throw up a prayer" to heaven and expect God to respond?  Do we understand that we are drawing near to the Creator of all things, to the God who rules over the nations, to the One before whom the angels bow as they cry out, "Holy! Holy! Holy is the LORD God Almighty!"?? Nehemiah KNEW God, he didn't just know about God.  He comes to Him as the "LORD, God of heaven, the great and awesome God, Who keeps His covenant of love with those who love Him and obey His commands" (1:5).  Nehemiah realized the privilege of approaching God in prayer and He came humbly before His throne.  "I confess the sins we Israelites, including myself and my father's house, have committed against You" (1:6).

Nehemiah didn't just point out the sins of the people around him, but he confessed his own.  His prayer is much like David's prayer in Psalm 51:  "Have mercy on me, O God; according to your unfailing love; according to Your great compassion blot out my transgressions.  Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.  For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me.  Against You, You only, have I sinned and done what is evil in Your sight …" (Psalm 51:1-4).  Humility leads to confession and we who know God's love in Jesus Christ, who have been born again by His Spirit, should be even more willing and ready to approach God as Nehemiah and David did.

As Nehemiah prayed, it was not for himself, but for the remnant that he prayed.  He asked only that God would show him favor before the king.  And God answered his prayer.  King Artaxerxes was moved by God to grant Nehemiah's request for permission to travel to Jerusalem, for letters for safe travel to Judah, and for materials to rebuild the walls.  Once there, Nehemiah inspected the walls and found them as reported, broken down and the gates burned.  God had apparently given Nehemiah the gift of organization, for in a short time the people were gathered together to begin rebuilding the walls of the city.  And when their enemies began to take notice, Nehemiah answered by saying, "The God of heaven will give us success. We His servants will start rebuilding, but as for you, you have no share in Jerusalem or any claim or historic right to it" (2:20).

These words echo through the hallways of time right up to today.  Sovereignty over parts of Jerusalem and the Temple Mount continue to this very day, yet Nehemiah's statement is as true now as it was then:  this city belongs to the God of heaven and He has given it to the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the descendants of Judah and David.  So the rebuilding began in earnest and Chapter 3 gives a detailed account of all those involved in rebuilding the walls and the gates around the entire city.  It is obvious that this was no small project!  It required organization, skill and perseverance.  But more than that, it required FAITH!!

Sanballat, the ruler of Samaria, mocked the Jews, making fun of what they were trying to do.  Once again, the remnant turned to prayer:  "Hear us, O our God, for we are despised.  Turn their insults back on their own heads.  Give them over as plunder in a land of captivity.  Do not cover up their guilt or blot out their sins from Your sight, for they have thrown insults in the face of the builders" (4:4-5).  The people and their leaders would not be discouraged from their task.  They believed that God was with them and they were determined to move forward with the rebuilding.

Nehemiah reported that the walls had reached half their height because "the people worked with all their heart!" (4:6).  The rapid progress incited the anger of their enemies all the more and they plotted to come against the remnant.  Imagine this!  These were not soldiers or builders.  While there may have been some skilled people among them, these were a remnant who had returned to a city that had been destroyed and they were there with their families, exposed to their enemies, with nothing but their swords to defend them … nothing except their God!

What did Nehemiah and the people do?  They prayed and posted guards day and night.  Can you picture this?  Waiting for your enemy to attack; not knowing if or when it may happen.  The stress was getting to the people and they were becoming discouraged.  Before they could build in places they had to clear out the rubble.  They were physically and emotionally exhausted and the constant threat from their enemies seemed too much.  But the LORD their God strengthened them.  Nehemiah posted guards at all of the exposed places, with their swords, spears and bows, and he spoke to the leaders and the rest of the people, "Don't be afraid of them.  Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your brothers, your sons and your daughters, your wives and your homes!" (4:14).

God had inspired Nehemiah with strength and faith and he was a leader of men!  When their enemies heard that their plot had been uncovered and that the remnant was ready to fight, they hesitated to attack Jerusalem.  From that day on, Nehemiah put half of the men to work on the wall and the other half were ready to do battle, "with spears, shields, bows and armor" (4:16).  Even those who carried materials "did their work with one hand and held a weapon in the other, and each of the builders wore his sword at his side as he worked" (4:17-18).  The man who sounded the trumpet remained with Nehemiah and they watched for the enemy to come.  Because they were so spread out, Nehemiah instructed them, "Wherever you hear the sound of the trumpet, join us there.  Our God will fight for us!"

Such commitment, such devotion, is inspiring!  WE need to be so inspired today as we work to build God's temple, the Church!!  Prayer, fasting and perseverance must be combined with humility and confession as we depend upon the same God to fight for us!  We are told in that familiar passage in Ephesians 6:10-18, that we must be ready to fight by putting on the full armor of God:  the belt of truth,  the breastplate of righteousness, the gospel of peace, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God.  Too many who are part of God's remnant in the world today go about unarmed, unaware of the danger and of the enemy who prowls around like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour.

We must "resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings" (I Peter 5:9).  Peter knew the same God that Nehemiah knew, and so he says, "The God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will Himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. To Him be the power for ever and ever, Amen!" (I Peter 5:10-11).

God calls you and me to be at work as His servants today through His faith in Jesus Christ and through the empowering presence of His Spirit within us.  Through prayer and fasting God reveals His will to us in His Word and calls us to be "watchmen," sounding the warning of the approach of the enemy and being ready to engage in battle with the living Word!  Ours is no easier task than that of Nehemiah if we take it seriously and realize who we are as we live in the world today.  Families and churches are being destroyed from the influences of the world around us and from within.  We need to hear Nehemiah's words:  "Don't be afraid of them.  Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your brothers, your sons and your daughters, your wives and your homes!" (4:14).

We who believe in Jesus Christ are not called to be spectators in the battle, but to be armed with God's Word and sent out to those around us, lifting up the weak, showing mercy to the brokenhearted and encouraging those without hope.  And as we do His will, our God is with us!  We will overcome, "by the blood of the Lamb and the Word of our testimony!" (Revelation 12:11).

"Heavenly Father, the God of heaven and of earth, we draw near to You in prayer in the name of Jesus, for through Him You have given us access to Your throne.  I humbly confess my sin and the sin of Your people, for we have not obeyed all Your commands or served You with the zeal that You desire.  Too often we have spent Your gifts on our own pleasures and have failed to accomplish Your purpose in our lives, either as individuals or as a part of Your body.  Renew Your work in us, I pray, and begin with me.  Use me, O God, to glorify Your Name, and as we seek to rebuild what has been broken down, give us wisdom and grace to do all that You desire.  In Jesus' name, Amen"

Sunday, November 23, 2014

"Controlling sin in people without the Spirit ... "

Day #331:  Daily Bible Reading Plan - November 24th

Scripture Reading:  Deuteronomy 20 - 22 ...

There are parts of the Bible that are "easier" to read than others.  Some parts of the Books of Moses, the Book of the Law, describe certain commands that are difficult for us to imagine, or even to comprehend.  Why would God give these instructions to His people?  As you read these chapters you need to keep something in mind:  Mankind is utterly and totally sinful and without restraint we would act no differently than animals.  Throughout history there are countless examples of "man's inhumanity to man," and in every case people act shocked and surprised that people could do such horrible things.  God reveals in His Word the truth that we are all infected with a disease that, if left untreated, is fatal and that leads to eternal death 100% of the time.

In the days of Moses the people of Israel were just becoming a nation.  They did not yet understand fully their identity as the people of God.  The nations around them worshiped other gods and did things like offering their children as sacrifices to their gods - burning them alive.  Israel was supposed to be different.  They were supposed to be holy.  God's commandments told them to love God and to love their neighbor as themselves.  We used to say that "some things go without saying," but human nature, left to itself, knows no boundaries.  All you need to do to prove that point is to look around you.  Here in Deuteronomy God gives guidelines to His people to keep their sin and rebellion in check.

We begin in Chapter 20, however, with God instructing the people about war.  Even these instructions reveal that this nation is different because THIS nation belongs to the LORD, their God!  God tells them that when they go to war, "do not be afraid of them, because the LORD your God, who brought you up out of Egypt, will be with you" (20:1).  Imagine this:  "the PRIEST shall come forward and address the army," saying, "Do not be fainthearted or afraid:  do not be terrified or give way to panic before them.  For the LORD your God is the One who goes with you to fight for you against your enemies to give you victory" (20:2-4).  War was such a part of life that it would have been easy for the people to forget that it was part of God's plan to protect them from the evil around them.  Having the priest encourage them reminded them that this was God's way of removing a temptation that would lead them away from HIM!

God gave them specific instructions, telling them, "Do not leave alive anything that breathes.  Completely destroy them ... Otherwise, they will teach you to follow all the detestable things they do in worshiping their gods, and you will sin against the LORD your God" (20:16, 18).  We read a short time later in the first chapter of the book of Judges that they did not drive out the Canaanites, and they lived to regret it.  They continually gave into the temptation of the gods of the nations around them and worshiped them and did all sorts of foolish and dishonorable things.  So when we get to the rest of the instructions in these chapters we need to understand the recurring phrase, "You must purge the evil from among you."

In Exodus, Leviticus and Deuteronomy, God gives specific rules of law to guide His people in living together in community.  As strange as some of these may seem to us, they were intended to protect the innocent and to prevent the nation of Israel from deteriorating into the same type of heathen nation that the nations all around them had become.  Moses had declared to the people earlier in Deuteronomy (4:7-8):  "What other nation is so great as to have their gods near them, the way the LORD our God is near us, whenever we pray to Him?  And what other nation is so great as to have such righteous decrees and laws as this body of laws I am setting before your today?" Without the laws God gave, Israel would have been no different than the nations around them.

God speaks about "innocent blood" (21:1-9) in order to protect someone from being blamed for a murder they didn't commit.  Then He speaks about how to treat a woman taken captive during war and of the right of firstborn sons for someone who has two wives.  Again, these things sound strange to our ears, but human nature needs restraint and the sinful nature must be controlled.  These laws were made necessary because the people were imitating the actions of the nations around them and God was actually protecting them.  But what about the rebellious son who was to be taken out of the camp and stoned?  God says, "You must purge the evil from among you.  All Israel will hear of it and be afraid" (21:21).  How could God condone such a thing?

Few people today recognize the infectious nature of sin.  Imagine the worst virus the world has ever known ... a virus that causes death 100% of the time.  One person in your family has the disease ... what do you do to protect the rest of the family?  It sounds extreme and we are obviously not called to do that today ... or are we?  God calls the Church to exercise discipline in the body by excluding those who turn away from the truth and indulge in sinful rebellion against God.  In much the same way God calls the Church to purge evil from among us.  That doesn't mean that any of us are without sin, but that where there is no repentance and no desire to please God, that person is to be warned and if they do not confess their sin and turn back to God, they are to be removed from being part of the body.  Sin is serious and the decline of the church today and its influence on society can be traced to an almost total lack of biblical discipline.

The instructions of Chapter 22 continue to reveal God's instructions for a holy people.  It is hard to understand all of the instructions concerning planting seeds and wearing clothes of different materials, etc., but God's perhaps purpose was to show His people what Paul would write later in II Corinthians 6:14-17:  "Do not be yoked together with unbelievers.  For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common?  Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?  What harmony is there between Christ and Belial?  What does a believer have in common with an unbeliever?  What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols?  For we are the temple of the living God.  As God has said, 'I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people.'  'Therefore come out from them and be separate,' says the Lord."

And in the midst of these laws we find one of the most significant truths revealed in the Old Testament ... 21:23:  "anyone who is hung on a tree is under God's curse."  As Paul writes about putting our faith in Jesus, he explains, "Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: 'Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree'" (Galatians 3:13).  Sin brings God's curse.  From the Garden of Eden forward mankind lies under the curse of God's just judgment.  The Law reveals mankind's depravity, mankind's sin, and the need for controlling it.

Praise God, following the pouring out of His Spirit, God overcomes the curse and sets free those who are born again.  The Spirit controls what we cannot!  Paul explains it all in his letter to the Romans:  "The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace; the sinful mind is hostile to God.  It does not submit to God's law, nor can it do so.  Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God" (Romans 8:6-8).  Then he says to believers, "YOU, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. ... And if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit, who lives in you" (Romans 8:9-11).

Through His law God kept His people from destroying themselves and kept a "godly seed," a "remnant," throughout the centuries leading up to Christ's birth.  Today His Spirit works in the remnant that is saved by grace through faith in Jesus.  Praise God for His amazing grace!

"Almighty God, You are the Lawgiver and Judge of all mankind and all that You do is good and right. Only through the knowledge of Your truth can we find freedom from the curse of the Law through faith in Your Son, Jesus Christ.  As we see the horrible depravity of mankind, continue to move us to confess our own sin, our own need for a Savior, and give us grace to repent, to turn away from sin and to pursue righteousness for Your Name's sake, that we may be a people holy to the Lord, our God.  In Jesus' name, Amen"  

Saturday, November 22, 2014

"Believe in Jesus and love one another ..."

Day #330:  Daily Bible Reading Plan - November 23rd

Scripture Reading:  I John 1 - 3 ...

The Apostle John is writing to Christians who are facing persecution, false teachers, temptation and every other aspect of life, so what he writes must be the most important thing on his mind and his heart. God used the writers of Scripture to speak truth to believers throughout all ages ... to you and me today ... and this is truth we need to hear.  Here it is in summary:  Those who know Jesus Christ and who have been born again by His Spirit are in fellowship with God AND with each other, as brothers and sisters in Christ.  Those who are true believers love God AND one another.  Remember that these words are written to encourage believers as they live with Christ and for Christ in the world.  There is nothing more important in your life and mine that loving God and loving one another!  We who believe have a special bond that those who do not know Jesus cannot understand.  While we are called to love all people, the love of believers for one another gives us strength because we know that we are never alone.  That's what God is saying through John ... "You are not alone!  I am with you and you have brothers and sisters who are with you.  Love one another!"

It is a special message for a special people ... special not because of what we have done or who we are in ourselves, but because of what GOD has done and who we are in Christ!  You can feel John's passion as he begins his letter and talks about his own personal experience in seeing and touching Jesus, "the Word of Life" (1:1).  Then he says, "We proclaim to you what WE have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with US.  And our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son, Jesus Christ" (1:3).  "Fellowship" is "koinonia," the community of believers, the Church that Jesus came to build ... His BODY!  There is a oneness among true believers that exists nowhere else on earth, for our fellowship comes from being united to Christ.  We who believe are all attached to the Vine and we get our life from HIM!

That's why it is so important that we live out this special relationship by the power of His Spirit living within us.  This is the "light" John is talking about throughout the first chapter of his letter.  "God is light" is another way of saying that there is nothing bad, nothing wrong, nothing evil in God ... NOTHING!  And through fellowship, communion, oneness with God, we become like Him.  We begin to think like God and act like God.  Remember when Satan tempted Eve in the Garden by saying she could be like God, knowing good and evil?  He didn't tell her that she would KNOW the difference, but would not be able to resist evil because of the sinful nature within her that arose when she died spiritually and her fellowship with God was broken.  So it is with every human being who has ever lived since (except Jesus!).  But when you are born again by the Spirit of God your fellowship with God is restored and you now have HIS power within you.  Jumping ahead, that's why John says in Chapter 4, verse 4:  "... the One who is IN you is greater than the one who is in the world."

God doesn't make mistakes!  He doesn't call someone to follow Jesus and forget to empower them to love their brothers and sisters in Christ.  Reading these chapters, you need to understand that John is not saying that believers will never commit a sin.  Some have tried to go there, but that would exclude all of us from having any assurance of being the children of God.  In fact, John says, "If we walk in the light ... we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, His Son, purifies us from all sin.  If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.  If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.  If we claim we have not sinned, we make Him out to be a liar and His Word has no place in our lives" (1:7-10).

Believers still sin, so John writes, " ... if anybody does sin, we have One who speaks to the Father in our defense - Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.  he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world" (2:1-2).  Jesus did all that was necessary to pay for every sin ever committed, but only those who place their faith in Him, who confess their sin and trust in Christ, receive forgiveness and cleansing.  It is we who believe who are empowered and enabled to love God because He first loved us and to love one another as brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus.  This is how we know we belong to Him, when we love those who love Jesus with all our hearts.  John says that he is not giving a new command, yet it IS a new command because until Jesus came and until His Spirit was poured out we did not have the power to keep God's command to love our neighbor as ourselves.

Knowing and loving Jesus changes everything, and what God is saying through John is that if you don't love those who are brothers and sisters in Christ from your heart, you don't know or love God ... you are still walking in the darkness.  "Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in the darkness" (2:9).  It is so easy to get caught up in the ways of this world and to treat people the way they treat you - even in the body of Christ.  It is so easy to get distracted and to expend your effort doing things for yourself, loving the things of the world rather than loving God and your brothers and sisters.  Think of the things you do for YOURSELF!  It's just easier to pursue the cravings of the sinful nature than it is to do the will of your Father in heaven ... isn't it?!  But that isn't the way Jesus calls us to live.

We have "an anointing from the Holy One, and ... know the truth" (2:20).  Everything in the world will pass away.  It has no lasting value.  So why do we spend so much time pursuing the pleasures of the world?  We who know the truth confess that Jesus is the Christ, the eternal Son of God, and that He died on the cross for our sins and rose again for our salvation, defeating sin and death once for all.  He promised us eternal life and He now calls us to "remain in Him" (2:27).  People live all their lives in this world wondering why they are alive, wondering what to do with their lives, fearing the future.  We have received God's grace so that the truth would set us free!  We are alive to please God.  Every day is an opportunity to be an instrument in God's hand to share His love in Word and in deed, that He might receive glory and praise.

Is your life radically different than that of those who do not know Jesus?  If not, why not?  What's missing?  Do you understand how much you are loved?  Do you believe your sins are forgiven and that you have new life in Christ?  Have you confessed your sins?  Do you believe God is at work purifying you and making you more like Jesus?  All these things and more God has promised for those who believe in Jesus!  "How great is the love the Father has lavished on US, that we should be called children of God!  (This is NOT everybody!)  And that is what WE are!  The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know Him.  Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known.  But we know that when He appears, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is" (3:1-3).

We who believe are in the process of being transformed by the power of the living God!  And He will not stop until we are actually LIKE HIM!  (Philippians 1:6).  Now John writes that "in Him is no sin.  No one who lives in Him keeps on sinning.  No one who continues to sin has either seen Him or known Him" (3:5-6).  What can John possibly mean?  Put this in the context of Romans 6:1-4:  "Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase?  By no means!  We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?  We were therefore buried with Him through baptism (the baptism of the Holy Spirit) in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life."

While in this body the old nature of sin must still be "put off" in order that the new nature may be "put on" (Ephesians 4:22-23).  In our minds and in our hearts we do not want to sin.  Paul talks about this struggle in Romans 7, where he writes, "As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me.  ... For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do - this I keep on doing.  Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it" (7:17-19).  This does not give an excuse for sin, but rather explains the importance of keeping our hearts and minds on Jesus.  If you spend more time thinking about your sin than you do about God's love and grace and forgiveness in Jesus, you will find yourself giving in to sin all the more.  It is in setting your mind on loving God because He first loved you that you will find strength and power to overcome the flesh.

And the evidence of that is love for your fellow-believers!  You will enjoy fellowship with God's people more than fellowship with the world, with those who don't know Christ or confess Him as Savior and Lord.  While still being a witness to those who are not part of God's people, your friendships and your community will revolve around the Church, the body of Christ.  "Do not be surprised, my brothers, if the world hates you.  We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love our brothers" (3:13-14).  "This is how we know what love is:  Jesus Christ laid down His life for us.  And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers" (4:16).  John then explains that this means giving to those in the body who have needs.  "Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth" (3:18).

THIS is His command:  "to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as He commanded us.  Those who obey His commands live in Him, and He in them.  And this is how we know that He lives in us:  We know it by the Spirit He gave us" (3:24).  You and I need to continually remember that it is by the power of the Spirit that we live in fellowship with the Father and with each other.  Not one of us can or will accomplish this by our own strength.  Those who fall away, those who leave, never had the Spirit in the first place.  "They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us.  For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us, but their going showed that none of them belonged to us" (2:19).

In John's day many who had claimed to be followers of Jesus left the body when things got hard.  They turned against those whom they had claimed as brothers.  Those who have the Spirit cannot and will not do that.  We who believe will persevere, not by our strength, but by His.  Thank God that He did not leave us alone to accomplish all that He calls us to do and be.  His grace is His empowering presence, giving us all we need to be what He wants us to be and to do what he wants us to do.  May you rejoice in His grace today and in the fellowship we share, and may His Spirit help you this very day to believe in Jesus and to love one another!

"Father, the call to follow Jesus is so loud in my ears and in my mind.  It consumes my heart and my will ... and yet, I see my old nature at work to pull me away from You.  How I thank You for Your promise that as I keep on confessing my sin, You will keep on forgiving me and cleansing me from the unrighteousness that remains.  I praise You, Father, that through faith in Christ You already see me as righteous, for His righteousness has been credited to my account.  Continue Your work in me, that in all things I may glorify You as You purify me through the blood of Your Son.  In Jesus' name, Amen"

Friday, November 21, 2014

"The Scriptures … we are sent to proclaim GOD's Word!"

Day #329:  Daily Bible Reading Plan - November 22nd

Scripture Reading:  Acts 17 - 18 …

Following the death and resurrection of Jesus, and then His ascension into heaven and the pouring out of His Spirit on the day of Pentecost, God's plan to bring salvation to all who believed in Jesus began.  Yes, there were some who were saved from God's wrath against sin and His judgment in the days from creation to the birth of Jesus, but relatively few.  With good reason, we are told that "NOW is the time of God's favor, NOW is the day of salvation" (II Corinthians 6:2).  The "now" is the time between Christ's first coming and His second, as the writer of Hebrews says so clearly:  "Just as a man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and He will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for Him" (Hebrews 9:27-28).

Throughout the book of Acts you find the apostles, and specifically Paul and those with him, declaring the Word of God to those who had the Old Testament Scriptures, the Jews, and to those who had not heard of the one true God, the Gentiles, or who had heard of the God of Israel, but did not know about Jesus and how He fulfilled the Old Testament prophecies.  As Paul began his second missionary journey he continued going from city to city, speaking in the Jewish synagogues to the Jews and often to "God-fearing" Gentiles (Greeks).  His teaching is described in chapter 17, verses 2-3:  "He reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that the Christ had to suffer and rise from the dead."  Then he added, "This JESUS I am proclaiming to you IS THE CHRIST!!"

It is important to remember that the only "Scriptures" ("writings") that Paul and the Jews had at this time were the Old Testament Scriptures:  the Book of Moses (the Law), the Psalms and the Prophets.  The Old Testament writings, as we have them today, had been gathered and put together at least some two hundred years prior to Jesus' birth.  While the leaders of the Jews, particularly the Pharisees, had added their own traditions and other writings, these were the Scriptures and were considered by the Jews to be the very Word of their God.  That's why Paul, himself a Pharisee well-versed in the Scriptures, began with God's Word.  His "authority" was the authority of the written word and it was God's intention then, as it is now, to prove that Jesus is the Christ, the promised Messiah, God's "Anointed One," who came in fulfillment of the prophecies of the Old Testament.

Even today many people fail to grasp the very elementary truth that Christianity is NOT a new religion or a different religion from Biblical Judaism.  Christianity is the fulfillment of Biblical Judaism because Jesus IS the Christ that the Old Testament Scriptures pointed to.  It would have been wonderful to have the Bible study that Paul used in Thessalonica and other places, but the reality is, we DO have it throughout his letters to the churches in the New Testament Scriptures which he and others wrote as they were inspired by His Spirit.  Just as the Bereans "examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true" (17:11), so you and I must do the same.  False teachers arise today and lead many astray because they twist and distort the Scriptures to their own destruction and to the destruction of those who hear them because their hearers do not examine the Scriptures and see if these things are true!!  You need to be a student of the Word of God!  Remember Paul's words to Timothy:  "All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful …" (II Timothy 3:16).

AND … it all talks about Jesus!!  Those who use the Bible only as a moral guide to tell them how to discern right from wrong miss the whole point.  Jesus said to the Pharisees, "You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life.  These are the Scriptures that testify about ME, yet you refuse to come to ME to have life" (John 5:39-40).  This is what Paul and the others were doing … explaining how the Scriptures of the Old Testament pointed to Jesus.  And this is why all the other religions of the world are wrong and fail to lead to eternal life.  They miss Jesus.  They don't know who He is, what He did on the cross … and they don't believe He rose again, that He ascended into heaven or that He is coming again.  Without Jesus, the Messiah, the Christ, there is no hope.

So Paul came to Athens and saw all of their statues and idols and taught them about their "unknown God" (17:23).  Today many in the church seem fine with allowing people to believe in idols, in false gods that are no god at all!  Paul told the men of Athens, "What you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you" (17:23), and then he began at creation:  "The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands …" (17:24).  He then goes on to explain that "now He commands all people to repent (to turn around, to change their minds) … For He has set a day when He will judge the world with justice by the man He has appointed.  He has given proof of this to all men by raising Him from the dead" (17:30-31).

There are always two responses to the preaching of the Gospel, and you can see them here in verses 32-34:  Some believed and some didn't.  Every time the Gospel is preached the hearts of those who hear are moved one direction or the other - either closer to faith in Christ or further away.  Either the Spirit uses the Word to soften their hearts or the Word makes them hardened to the truth … more impenetrable.  No heart is so hard that God cannot soften it and penetrate to its core, but men constantly bring judgment on themselves by hearing and rejecting the truth revealed in the Scriptures.  It was true then and it is true today.  Our hope, and our joy, is that God has assured us that His Word will not return empty, but will accomplish the purpose for which He sent it (Isaiah 55:10-11).  It is our responsibility to proclaim it and only God can do the rest.

Having left Athens, Paul went to Corinth, where he stayed for a year and a half.  When the Jews rejected his preaching, he determined to go to the Gentiles.  God spoke to Paul and told him that He had many people in Corinth, a very large city at the time (18:10).  Some of the Jews continued to try to make trouble for him, but those who believed helped him wherever he was and from Corinth he went to Ephesus and then back to Caesarea, to Antioch, where he had begun his journey.

Paul was not alone in proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ throughout Asia Minor.  He was teaching and equipping others and people like Apollos and Priscilla and Aquila were aiding the spread of the Gospel.  It is hard for us to imagine what it was like in those days, without the New Testament having yet been gathered together the letters Paul, Peter, John and others wrote were like a breath of life to these new believers.  We often study the New Testament as though it was a theology textbook, but it is so much more than that.  God inspired the apostles to write these things to the churches in order to make certain that they and we understood the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  They often quoted from the Old Testament Scriptures and tied what they had said to the reality that is now found in Jesus Christ.  By doing so, it became clear who Jesus is and what He came to do.

In his letter to the believers in Ephesus, Paul explains that the Church, the Body of Christ, was and is GOD's idea.  He says the Church is "built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus Himself as the Chief Cornerstone" (Ephesians 2:20).  In Christ, Jews and Gentiles were brought together as one body through faith in Him, a faith produced by the Holy Spirit through the hearing of the Word (Romans 10:17).  Many today in the church would not think of trying to "convert" people from other religions, let alone a Jew, but God told the apostles to preach to the Jews and then to the Gentiles.  They forget that all the Apostles and Paul were Jews who had become followers of Jesus because they believed that He was the Christ, the Messiah.

When he wrote to the Romans Paul explained that he was "not ashamed of the Gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes; first for the Jew, then for the Gentile" (Romans 1:16).  In Romans 10, Paul says, "My heart's desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved" (10:1).  Being a Jew by birth does not save you, any more than being born to believing parents saves you.  Faith in Jesus Christ saves.  And as you follow Paul's journeys, as well as those of the rest who have proclaimed the Gospel across the face of this planet, you discover that it is when the Gospel is preached that people repent and believe and are saved.  "Faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the Word of Christ" (Romans 10:17).

Why did Paul and others risk their lives to preach this Gospel, and why are many doing the same today?  Because they and we believe that "the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, BUT to those who are being saved it is the power of God … For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know Him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe" (I Corinthians 1:18, 21).  Jesus said that "this Gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come" (Matthew 24:14).

How close are we to that end?  Only God knows, but we are closer today than we were yesterday!  Jesus has promised that not one of the sheep the Father has given Him will be lost.  As God told Paul that He had many people in Corinth, so He knows how many are left to be saved and He will save them through the hearing of His Word, the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments.  It is one book with one message and it all points to Jesus.  You and I who believe in Jesus today are sent into our homes, schools, workplaces and communities, indeed, into the whole world, to proclaim God's Word.  Let us be doing so with zeal and commitment, willing to bear persecution and to endure suffering for the Gospel, for it is still the power of God unto salvation for those who believe!!

"Father in heaven, I believe the message of Your Word that points me to Jesus, for I have found in Him the only hope for forgiveness and life.  In the Gospel You promise to credit the righteousness of Jesus to those who believe and by Your Spirit You open the eyes of the blind to see Your kingdom and allow us access to Your throne.  How can we possibly thank You for Your gift of grace?!  Use me, Father, to declare this message at every opportunity, pointing people to Jesus through Your Word and showing them who He is and what He did on the cross for all who believe in Him.  May You receive all the glory and the praise, from the thankful hearts of those who come to know Your love, in Jesus' name, Amen"